History of the Cape Fear Yacht Club by Jerry Gable
The Cape Fear Yacht Club was founded in 1993 by a small group of local sailors as primarily a large sailboat (PHRF rules) ocean racing organization centered at the Southport Marina. When the ocean was lumped up we stayed in the river to challenge the currents. The club was incorporated as a non-profit organization in November 1994.
Within the first two years we quickly grew into a more general boating club with strong social, youth and cruising divisions for both sailors and power boaters. The club originally met casually at Port Charlie's Restaurant and Bar (long gone now) at Marker 1 on the waterfront for the first year. Then we spent a few years in the large room above the marina office that later became Fish Tales. Our first real facility came with the use of several hundred feet of sandy beach on the Southport riverfront marked by our large storage box and the flagpole that still stands at the current clubhouse at South Harbour Marina. It became the center of our ceremonial, social, youth training and small boat sailing programs.
Our youth sailing program grew rapidly in the 90s. We started with a small fleet of Sunfish then expanded to a larger fleet of one person Optimist one design class boats. Soon the program expanded from summer camp instructional and recreational sailing to include a traveling race team seeking out competitions along the east coast and at inland lakes. Larger class boats were added for the more advanced sailors. Parents, grandparents and our adult members provided overwhelming support of the program.
In 1998 our CFYC Youth Sailing Team went to the Leukemia Cup competition in Wilmington and won all three places in the Optimist one-design class.
After a few years on the beach and a swelling membership we decided it was time for a real clubhouse. In 2000, at the dawn of the new millennium, we were able to lease the Harborside Restaurant building next to Southport Marina. This facility was virtually perfect with plenty of room inside, a large deck outside and a full commercial kitchen. A couple of members with superb woodworking skills built a beautiful bar (same one we are used to standing at in the current facility), tables and many other furnishings. With a new and luxurious clubhouse came a significant boost in our membership. We were in our glory years!
At the same time our ocean and river big boat racing program flourished beyond our expectations. We hosted between 12 and 15 weekend club races each year plus any number of after-work beer can races. In addition we hosted the Commodore's Regatta, Cape Fear Open and Rocket Regatta as open invitationals gathering competitors from Charleston, Myrtle Beach, and Wilmington. For twenty years we were the premiere ocean yacht racing venue from Norfolk to Charleston.
In 2000 we were chosen as the sailing venue for North Carolina's Pan American Games bid. Unfortunately, after six months of intense meetings and planning sessions, the games went to Texas.
In 2003 we began our long association as host club for the Leukemia Cup sailing regatta bringing with it national and international recognition. This was our finest hour. But, after 7 years we found the cost in money and man-hours to be excessively burdensome.
Our lease on the clubhouse was up at the end of 2003 and the landlord decided she wanted to demolish the building to make way for new condos. In the meantime our sailing, cruising, youth and social programs reached their all time highs. The next two years were spent studying, planning and acquiring land for our new clubhouse at South Harbour Marina. We had been building our capital fund for ten years, now it was time to spend it. Fortunately, we were able to extend our stay in Southport until the new building was finished. Construction occupied much of 2005 and 2006. The doors were opened to our world class facility in June 2006. The design won a national award for our architect.
A new facility with all its amenities including plenty of beach just across the road for the youth program reinvigorated the club. A flood of new members augmented the old time stalwars to give us a true cosmopolitan feel. The youth sailing program reached an all time high during the summer of 2009.
In 2010, after 15 years, our old plywood Opties were showing their age and maintenance was becoming a key issue. It was time for some new boats. The new boats would be fiberglass and much easier to maintain. Plus, they would look good - all shiny and smart. However, a new fleet of ten boats was going to be a strain on our club resources. A couple of our members who were also keen golfers suggested a CFYC sponsored golf tournament (they were just looking for an excuse), which instantly seemed like a good idea.
The golfing members quickly organized the event and found an open date. The inaugural outing was a huge success. The after event prime rib dinner and party was held in our clubhouse which gave us the opportunity to show off the house and the club. Not only did we raise enough money to buy our new boats but we also had a nice up tick in our membership. The golf tourney has become an annual event to support the youth sailing program complete with its own non-profit designation.
The Great Recession of 2009 took a small toll on our membership as it wore on, but more importantly it took a larger toll on our big boat sailing fleet. Some members just couldn't justify the continuing maintenance of a large racing sailboat. Within a few years it was difficult to field an effective and completive fleet for a race. This declining interest in big boat ocean racing was exacerbated by the aging of our membership. Middle aged members who loved the challenge of high energy racing found themselves in their 70s struggling with all the things that come with being older.
In 2016 we decided to buy a new fleet of larger one design boats which would give the youth program a boat to step up to and a boat well suited to adult racing. We were able to purchase a fleet of thirteen lightly used 420s, a fast two person multi-sail boat perfect for one design racing in the river and harbor environment.
2017 found us having the clubhouse exterior painted in bolder yet still conservative colors with a higher quality paint. The result has been very pleasing.
Over this 25 years all the activity hasn't been just sailing and racing. We have had a very vigorous social program of parties, balls, club nights, raft-ups, beach parties, dock parties, house parties etc. In addition our cruising fleet, both power and sail, has ranged up and down the coast visiting cities, towns and gunk holes for a weekend or a week of camaraderie. Members without a boat or a ride would often drive to the cruising destination. One member couple even flew their airplane to a couple events.
What's ahead? It is hard to tell, but new members are bringing a new and fresh feel to the club. And, a new one design racing fleet is bringing a new enthusiasm for adult sailboat racing. It certainly looks like a bright future.